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South Asian Dances in the U.S.

Apr/23/2023 / by Melanie Fourie

They are infectious, and spreading like wildfire. These dances from the subcontinent are taking the country by storm

Bhangra dancers
Bhangra dancers. Shutterstock

International Dance Day, celebrated annually on April 29, is dedicated to the memory of French dancer and choreographer Jean-Georges Noverre.

Noverre was “the Shakespeare of dance,” and is credited with dramatizing the art form. In 1982, the Dance Committee of the International Theatre Institute (ITI), UNESCO’s primary partner for the performing arts, established International Dance Day.

For those who value dance, this day is cause for celebration. For those who do not, it serves as a call to action for politicians, governments, and establishments. We take a look at the most popular South Asian dances performed in the United States.

Bhangra

In recent years, bhangra, a traditional Punjabi folk dance, has become a worldwide phenomenon. Bhangra’s dance routines, upbeat music, and brightly colored outfits have attracted fans from across the globe. It is usually accompanied by the dhol, a huge drum, and boliyan, brief collections of songs describing tales from Punjab. So Punjabi folk dance has evolved from its original purpose of commemorating cultural events within the community. It is now performed all over the world, with spin-offs like music videos and cameos in movies.

Because of this, bhangra is now widely practiced in countries like the United States. There have been performances in the White House and on America’s Got Talent. The Royal House of Bhangra, a bhangra academy in New Jersey has many instructors. They create bespoke dance lessons apt for each dance student’s competence level. They’ve competed in over 100 dance contests, too. If you want to learn this dance form, contact them. You can also learn bhangra by downloading apps such as this one. Learn Bhangra also hosts classes and workshops globally, including in the U.S.

Bihu

This well-known Assamese folk dance includes both female and male performers in traditional garb. Several communities in Assam, including the Sonowal Kacharis and Borahis, have placed a high cultural value on the Bihu dance. During Bohag Bihu, youthful men and women celebrate the coming of spring by dancing together. In 1694, on the feast of Bohag Bihu, Ahom ruler Rudra Singhra first sought the performance of this dance. People resonate with this dance because it welcomes something new, in this case the season.

This month, Bihu entered the Guinness Book of World Records. It happened at the Sarusajai Sports Complex. There, 11,304 young women and men dressed in conventional mekhela sadors and dhoti kurtas danced together, making it the largest Bihu performance ever.

This vibrant and contagious dance has spread throughout the world and is performed throughout the U.S. You can learn to dance it online via easy-to-learn YouTube classes. Or go to the NartanRanga Academy in New York, BollyNaach in Los Angeles, or Arya International in New Jersey.

Bollywood: A Fusion

It is impossible to ignore the Western influence on Bollywood dance, an eclectic mix of styles. One example is Sitara Devi’s breakthrough dance routine in the 1942 film “Roti.”

The combination of jazz, hip-hop, aerobics, and Latin with other classical forms of dancing has been intriguing to see. Classical and ancestral dances from different regions of India, such as bhangra, also inspired many early Bollywood masterpieces.

The Orlando Magic/NBA dance contest teamed up with Bollywood Magic to bring Bollywood music, dance and couture to a wider audience. A chosen group performed at the NBA Arena in that city before a game. For Bollywood dance classes, try Bollywood Shake in Houston, Ajna Dance in New York, or the TAAL Academy of Dance in Maryland.